Columbia, Missouri Police Chief: “I Hate the Internet”

Friday, May 14, 2010
By Paul Martin

Radley Balko

Columbia, Missouri Police Chief Ken Burton is apparently frustrated. At another press conference yesterday, a reporter asked the chief what he has learned from the international attention generated by the YouTube video of his department’s SWAT team conducting a drug raid last February.

His reply: “I hate the Internet.”

I’ll bet he does. For two-and-a-half months, Burton and his department were quiet about the raid. That’s likely because, as I wrote yesterday, the raid was really no different from the tens of thousands of similar raids conducted every year, and that are probably conducted by his own department a couple of times per week. Within days of the video hitting the web, Burton was forced to hold several press conferences, and has now laid out several reforms to the way SWAT raids will be conducted in Columbia in the future. I suppose it’s possible those reforms were brewing all along, and the timing of him announcing them after the video went viral was mere coincidence. It seems at least plausible, though, that the dread “Internet” sparked some actual policy changes, here.

Unfortunately the changes—while small steps in the right direction—still miss the point. Burton says his department will no longer conduct SWAT raids at night. They won’t conduct raids in homes where children are present. Suspects will be under constant surveillance until the raid is carried out. And raids will be conducted within a shorter period of time from when police get the initial tip about a suspected drug dealer. But the Columbia Police Department will still conduct volatile, violent, highly aggressive forced-entry raids on people suspected of consensual, nonviolent drug crimes. That is what’s wrong with the YouTube video. Changing the time of day of the raid doesn’t change the wildly disproportionate use of force.

Burton and his department have also criticized web commentary on the video, citing both death threats aimed at members of the SWAT team and an abundance of what Burton calls “misinformation” about the raid.

The Rest…HERE

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